I’m doing something that I should have done a long time ago: collecting a series of posts into one single post. The following links comprised my series examining one of Richard Feynman’s anecdotes about mentally computing for three different values of .

In this series, I’m exploring the following ancedote from the book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, which I read and re-read when I was young until I almost had the book memorized.

One day at Princeton I was sitting in the lounge and overheard some mathematicians talking about the series for e^x, which is 1 + x + x^2/2! + x^3/3! Each term you get by multiplying the preceding term by x and dividing by the next number. For example, to get the next term after x^4/4! you multiply that term by x and divide by 5. It’s very simple.

When I was a kid I was excited by series, and had played with this thing. I had computed e using that series, and had seen how quickly the new terms became very small.

I mumbled something about how it was easy to calculate e to any power using that series (you just substitute the power for x).

“Oh yeah?” they said. “Well, then what’s e to the 3.3?” said some joker—I think it was Tukey.

I say, “That’s easy. It’s 27.11.”

Tukey knows it isn’t so easy to compute all that in your head. “Hey! How’d you do that?”

Another guy says, “You know Feynman, he’s just faking it. It’s not really right.”

They go to get a table, and while they’re doing that, I put on a few more figures.: “27.1126,” I say.

They find it in the table. “It’s right! But how’d you do it!”

“I just summed the series.”

“Nobody can sum the series that fast. You must just happen to know that one. How about e to the 3?”

“Look,” I say. “It’s hard work! Only one a day!”

“Hah! It’s a fake!” they say, happily.

“All right,” I say, “It’s 20.085.”

They look in the book as I put a few more figures on. They’re all excited now, because I got another one right.

Here are these great mathematicians of the day, puzzled at how I can compute e to any power! One of them says, “He just can’t be substituting and summing—it’s too hard. There’s some trick. You couldn’t do just any old number like e to the 1.4.”

I say, “It’s hard work, but for you, OK. It’s 4.05.”

As they’re looking it up, I put on a few more digits and say, “And that’s the last one for the day!” and walk out.

What happened was this: I happened to know three numbers—the logarithm of 10 to the base e (needed to convert numbers from base 10 to base e), which is 2.3026 (so I knew that e to the 2.3 is very close to 10), and because of radioactivity (mean-life and half-life), I knew the log of 2 to the base e, which is.69315 (so I also knew that e to the.7 is nearly equal to 2). I also knew e (to the 1), which is 2. 71828.

The first number they gave me was e to the 3.3, which is e to the 2.3—ten—times e, or 27.18. While they were sweating about how I was doing it, I was correcting for the extra.0026—2.3026 is a little high.

I knew I couldn’t do another one; that was sheer luck. But then the guy said e to the 3: that’s e to the 2.3 times e to the.7, or ten times two. So I knew it was 20. something, and while they were worrying how I did it, I adjusted for the .693.

Now I was sure I couldn’t do another one, because the last one was again by sheer luck. But the guy said e to the 1.4, which is e to the.7 times itself. So all I had to do is fix up 4 a little bit!

They never did figure out how I did it.

My students invariably love this story; let’s take a look at the third calculation.

Again, I have no idea how he put on a few more digits in his head (other than his sheer brilliance), as this would require knowing the value of to six or seven digits as well as computing the next term in the Taylor series expansion.

In this series, I’m exploring the following ancedote from the book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, which I read and re-read when I was young until I almost had the book memorized.

One day at Princeton I was sitting in the lounge and overheard some mathematicians talking about the series for e^x, which is 1 + x + x^2/2! + x^3/3! Each term you get by multiplying the preceding term by x and dividing by the next number. For example, to get the next term after x^4/4! you multiply that term by x and divide by 5. It’s very simple.

When I was a kid I was excited by series, and had played with this thing. I had computed e using that series, and had seen how quickly the new terms became very small.

I mumbled something about how it was easy to calculate e to any power using that series (you just substitute the power for x).

“Oh yeah?” they said. “Well, then what’s e to the 3.3?” said some joker—I think it was Tukey.

I say, “That’s easy. It’s 27.11.”

Tukey knows it isn’t so easy to compute all that in your head. “Hey! How’d you do that?”

Another guy says, “You know Feynman, he’s just faking it. It’s not really right.”

They go to get a table, and while they’re doing that, I put on a few more figures.: “27.1126,” I say.

They find it in the table. “It’s right! But how’d you do it!”

“I just summed the series.”

“Nobody can sum the series that fast. You must just happen to know that one. How about e to the 3?”

“Look,” I say. “It’s hard work! Only one a day!”

“Hah! It’s a fake!” they say, happily.

“All right,” I say, “It’s 20.085.”

They look in the book as I put a few more figures on. They’re all excited now, because I got another one right.

Here are these great mathematicians of the day, puzzled at how I can compute e to any power! One of them says, “He just can’t be substituting and summing—it’s too hard. There’s some trick. You couldn’t do just any old number like e to the 1.4.”

I say, “It’s hard work, but for you, OK. It’s 4.05.”

As they’re looking it up, I put on a few more digits and say, “And that’s the last one for the day!” and walk out.

What happened was this: I happened to know three numbers—the logarithm of 10 to the base e (needed to convert numbers from base 10 to base e), which is 2.3026 (so I knew that e to the 2.3 is very close to 10), and because of radioactivity (mean-life and half-life), I knew the log of 2 to the base e, which is.69315 (so I also knew that e to the.7 is nearly equal to 2). I also knew e (to the 1), which is 2. 71828.

The first number they gave me was e to the 3.3, which is e to the 2.3—ten—times e, or 27.18. While they were sweating about how I was doing it, I was correcting for the extra.0026—2.3026 is a little high.

I knew I couldn’t do another one; that was sheer luck. But then the guy said e to the 3: that’s e to the 2.3 times e to the.7, or ten times two. So I knew it was 20. something, and while they were worrying how I did it, I adjusted for the .693.

Now I was sure I couldn’t do another one, because the last one was again by sheer luck. But the guy said e to the 1.4, which is e to the.7 times itself. So all I had to do is fix up 4 a little bit!

They never did figure out how I did it.

My students invariably love this story; let’s take a look at the second calculation.

Again, I have no idea how he put on a few more digits in his head (other than his sheer brilliance), as this would require knowing the values of and to six or seven digits as well as computing the next term in the Taylor series expansion:

In this series, I’m looking at a wonderful anecdote from Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard P. Feynman from his book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!. This story concerns a time that he computed mentally for a few values of , much to the astonishment of his companions.

Part of this story directly ties to calculus.

One day at Princeton I was sitting in the lounge and overheard some mathematicians talking about the series for e^x, which is 1 + x + x^2/2! + x^3/3! Each term you get by multiplying the preceding term by x and dividing by the next number. For example, to get the next term after x^4/4! you multiply that term by x and divide by 5. It’s very simple.

When I was a kid I was excited by series, and had played with this thing. I had computed e using that series, and had seen how quickly the new terms became very small.

As noted, this refers to the Taylor series expansion of , which is can be used to compute to any power. The terms get very small very quickly because of the factorials in the denominator, thus lending itself to the computation of . Indeed, this series is used by modern calculators (with a few tricks to accelerate convergence). In other words, the series from calculus explains how the mysterious “black box” of a graphing calculator actually works.

Continuing the story…

“Oh yeah?” they said. “Well, then what’s e to the 3.3?” said some joker—I think it was Tukey.

I say, “That’s easy. It’s 27.11.”

Tukey knows it isn’t so easy to compute all that in your head. “Hey! How’d you do that?”

Another guy says, “You know Feynman, he’s just faking it. It’s not really right.”

They go to get a table, and while they’re doing that, I put on a few more figures.: “27.1126,” I say.

They find it in the table. “It’s right! But how’d you do it!”

For now, I’m going to ignore how Feynman did this computation in his head and instead discuss “the table.” The setting for this story was approximately 1940, long before the advent of handheld calculators. I’ll often ask my students, “The Brooklyn Bridge got built. So how did people compute before calculators were invented?” The answer is by Taylor series, which were used to produce tables of values of . So, if someone wanted to find , they just had a book on the shelf.

For example, the following page comes from the book Marks’ Mechanical Engineers’ Handbook, 6th edition, which was published in 1958 and which I happen to keep on my bookshelf at home.

Look down the fifth and sixth columns of this table, we see that . Somebody had computed all of these things (and plenty more) using the Taylor series, and they were compiled into a book and sold to mathematicians, scientists, and engineers.

But what if we needed an approximation better more accurate than four significant digits? Back in those days, there were only two options: do the Taylor series yourself, or buy a bigger book with more accurate tables.

Whenever I teach natural logarithms, I always share the following anecdote from the book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, which I read and re-read when I was young until I almost had the book memorized.

One day at Princeton I was sitting in the lounge and overheard some mathematicians talking about the series for e^x, which is 1 + x + x^2/2! + x^3/3! Each term you get by multiplying the preceding term by x and dividing by the next number. For example, to get the next term after x^4/4! you multiply that term by x and divide by 5. It’s very simple.

When I was a kid I was excited by series, and had played with this thing. I had computed e using that series, and had seen how quickly the new terms became very small.

I mumbled something about how it was easy to calculate e to any power using that series (you just substitute the power for x).

“Oh yeah?” they said. “Well, then what’s e to the 3.3?” said some joker—I think it was Tukey.

I say, “That’s easy. It’s 27.11.”

Tukey knows it isn’t so easy to compute all that in your head. “Hey! How’d you do that?”

Another guy says, “You know Feynman, he’s just faking it. It’s not really right.”

They go to get a table, and while they’re doing that, I put on a few more figures.: “27.1126,” I say.

They find it in the table. “It’s right! But how’d you do it!”

“I just summed the series.”

“Nobody can sum the series that fast. You must just happen to know that one. How about e to the 3?”

“Look,” I say. “It’s hard work! Only one a day!”

“Hah! It’s a fake!” they say, happily.

“All right,” I say, “It’s 20.085.”

They look in the book as I put a few more figures on. They’re all excited now, because I got another one right.

Here are these great mathematicians of the day, puzzled at how I can compute e to any power! One of them says, “He just can’t be substituting and summing—it’s too hard. There’s some trick. You couldn’t do just any old number like e to the 1.4.”

I say, “It’s hard work, but for you, OK. It’s 4.05.”

As they’re looking it up, I put on a few more digits and say, “And that’s the last one for the day!” and walk out.

What happened was this: I happened to know three numbers—the logarithm of 10 to the base e (needed to convert numbers from base 10 to base e), which is 2.3026 (so I knew that e to the 2.3 is very close to 10), and because of radioactivity (mean-life and half-life), I knew the log of 2 to the base e, which is.69315 (so I also knew that e to the.7 is nearly equal to 2). I also knew e (to the 1), which is 2. 71828.

The first number they gave me was e to the 3.3, which is e to the 2.3—ten—times e, or 27.18. While they were sweating about how I was doing it, I was correcting for the extra.0026—2.3026 is a little high.

I knew I couldn’t do another one; that was sheer luck. But then the guy said e to the 3: that’s e to the 2.3 times e to the.7, or ten times two. So I knew it was 20. something, and while they were worrying how I did it, I adjusted for the .693.

Now I was sure I couldn’t do another one, because the last one was again by sheer luck. But the guy said e to the 1.4, which is e to the.7 times itself. So all I had to do is fix up 4 a little bit!

They never did figure out how I did it.

My students invariably love this story.

In this series, I’d like to take a deeper look at this wonderful anecdote.

In my capstone class for future secondary math teachers, I ask my students to come up with ideas for engaging their students with different topics in the secondary mathematics curriculum. In other words, the point of the assignment was not to devise a full-blown lesson plan on this topic. Instead, I asked my students to think about three different ways of getting their students interested in the topic in the first place.

I plan to share some of the best of these ideas on this blog (after asking my students’ permission, of course).

This student submission comes from my former student Loc Nguyen. His topic, from Precalculus: introducing the number .

How could you as a teacher create an activity or project that involves your topic?

To be able to understand where the number e is produced in the first place, students need to understand how compound interest is calculated. Before introducing the number e, I will definitely create an activity for the students to work on so that they can eventually find the formula for compounding interest based on the patterns they produce throughout the process. The compound interest formula is F=P(1+r/n)^{nt}. From this formula, I will again provide students a worksheet to work on. In this worksheet, I will let P=1, r=100%, t=1, then the compound interest formula will be F=(1+1/n)^{n}. Now students will compute the final value from yearly to secondly.

When they do all the computation, they will see all the decimal places of the final value lining up as n gets big. And finally, they will see that the final value gets to the fixed value as n goes to infinity. That number is e=2.71828162….,

How has this topic appeared in the news?

To help the students realize how important number e is, I would engage them with the real life examples or applications. There were some news that incorporated exponential curves. First, I will show the students the news about how fast deadly disease Ebola will grow through this link http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2014/09/18/349341606/why-the-math-of-the-ebola-epidemic-is-so-scary. The students will eventually see how exponential curve comes into play. After that I will provide them this link, http://cleantechnica.com/2014/07/22/exponential-growth-global-solar-pv-production-installation/, in this link, the article talked about the global population rate and it provided the scientific evidence that showed the data collected represent the exponential curve. Up to this point, I will show the students that the population growth model is:

Those examples above was about the growth. For the next example, I will ask the students that how the scientists figured out the age of the earth. In this link, http://earthsky.org/earth/how-old-is-the-earth, the students will learn that the scientists used Modern radiometric dating methods to calculate the age of earth. At this time, I will show them radioactive decay formula and explain to them that this formula is used to determine the lives of the substances such as rocks:

How can technology (YouTube, Khan Academy [khanacademy.org], Vi Hart, Geometers Sketchpad, graphing calculators, etc.) be used to effectively engage students with this topic?

To introduce to the students what the number e is, I will engage them with two videos. In the first video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFgod5tmLYY, the math song “e a magic number” will engage the students why it is a magic number. While watching this clip, the students will be able to learn the history of e. Also the students will see many mathematical formulas and expressions that contain e. This will give them a heads up that they will see these in future when they take higher level math. It is also pretty humorous of how Dr. Chris Tisdell sang the song.

In the second video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-MZumdfbt8, it explained why e is everywhere. The video used probability and exponential function to illustrate the usefulness of e, and showed how e is involving in everything. It gave many examples of e such as population, finance… Also the video illustrates the characteristics of the number e and the function that has e in it. Watching these videos will enhance students’ perception and understanding on the number e, and help them to see how important this number is.

In my capstone class for future secondary math teachers, I ask my students to come up with ideas for engaging their students with different topics in the secondary mathematics curriculum. In other words, the point of the assignment was not to devise a full-blown lesson plan on this topic. Instead, I asked my students to think about three different ways of getting their students interested in the topic in the first place.

I plan to share some of the best of these ideas on this blog (after asking my students’ permission, of course).

This student submission comes from my former student Nada Al-Ghussain. Her topic, from Precalculus: introducing the number e.

How can this topic be used in your students’ future courses in mathematics or science?

Not every student loves math, but almost all students use math in his or her advanced courses. Students in microbiology will use the number e, to calculate the number of bacteria that will grow on a plate during a specific time. Biology or pharmacology students hoping to go into the health field will be able to find the time it takes a drug to lose one-half of its pharmacologic activity. By knowing this they will be able to know when a drug expires. Students going into business and finance will take math classes that rely greatly on the number e. It will help them understand and be able to calculate continuous compound interest when needed. Students who do love the math will get to explore the relation of logarithms and exponentials and how they interrelate. As students move into calculus, they are introduced to derivatives and integrals. The number e is unique, since when the area of a region bounded by a hyperbola y= 1/x, the x-axis, and the vertical lines x=1 and x= e is 1. So a quick introduction to e in any level of studies, reminds the students that it is there to simplify our life!

What interesting things can you say about the people who contributed to the discovery and/or the development of this topic?

In the late 16^{th} century, a Scottish mathematician named John Napier was a great mind that introduced to the world decimal point and Napier’s bones, which simplified calculating large numbers. Napier by the early 17^{th} century was finishing 20 years of developing logarithm theory and tables with base 1/e and constant 10^7. In doing this, multiplication computational time was cut tremendously in astronomy and navigation. Other mathematicians built on this to make lives easier (at least mathematically speaking!) and help develop the logarithmic system we use today.

Henry Briggs, an English mathematician saw the benefit of using base 10 instead of Napier’s base 1/e. Together Briggs and Napier revised the system to base 10, were Briggs published 30,000 natural numbers to 14 places [those from 1 to 20,000 and from 90,000 to 100,000]! Napier’s became known as the “natural logarithm” and Briggs as the “common logarithm”. This convinced Johann Kepler of the advantages of logarithms, which led him to discovery of the laws of planetary motions. Kepler’s reputation was instrumental in spreading the use of logarithms throughout Europe. Then no other than Isaac Newton used Kepler’s laws in discovering the law of gravity.

In the 18^{th} century Swiss mathematician, Leonhard Euler, figured he would have less distraction after becoming blind. Euler’s interest in e stemmed from the need to calculate compounded interest on a sum of money. The limit for compounding interest is expressed by the constant e. So if you invest $1 at a rate of interest of 100% a year and in interest is compounded continually, then you will have $2.71828… at the end of the year. Euler helped show us many ways e can be used and in return published the constant e. It didn’t stop there but other mathematical symbols we use today like i, f(x), Σ, and the generalized acceptance of π are thanks to Euler.

How can technology be used to effectively engage students with this topic?

Statistics and math used in the same sentence will make most students back hairs stand up! I would engage the students and ask them if they started a new job for one month only, would they rather get 1 million dollars or 1 penny doubled every day for a month? I would give the students a few minutes to contemplate the question, without using any calculators. Then I would take a toll of the number of the students’ choices for each one. I would show them a video regarding the question and idea of compound interest. Students will see how quickly a penny gets transformed into millions of dollars in a short time. Money and short time used in the same sentence will make students fully alert! I would then ask them another question, how many times do you need to fold a newspaper to get to the moon? As a class we would decide that the thickness is 0.001cm and the distance from the Earth to the moon would be given. I would give them some time to formulate a number and then take votes around the class, which should be correct. The video is then played which shows how high folding paper can go! This one helps them see the growth and compare it to the world around them. After the engaged, students are introduced to the number e and its roll in mathematics.

I’m doing something that I should have done a long time ago: collect past series of posts into a single, easy-to-reference post. The following posts formed my series on the different definitions of that appear in Precalculus and Calculus.

Part 1: Justification for the formula for discrete compound interest

Part 2: Pedagogical thoughts on justifying the discrete compound interest formula for students.

Part 3: Application of the discrete compound interest formula as compounding becomes more frequent.

Part 4: Informal definition of based on a limit of the compound interest formula.

Part 5: Justification for the formula for continuous compound interest.

Part 6: A second derivation of the formula for continuous compound interest by solving a differential equation.

Part 7: A formal justification of the formula from Part 4 using the definition of a derivative.

Part 8: A formal justification of the formula from Part 4 using L’Hopital’s Rule.

Part 9: A formal justification of the continuous compound interest formula as a limit of the discrete compound interest formula.

Part 10: A second formal justification of the continuous compound interest formula as a limit of the discrete compound interest formula.

Part 11: Numerical computation of using Riemann sums and the Trapezoid Rule to approximate areas under .

Part 12: Numerical computation of using and also Taylor series.